People inside the Frontier

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USA 2007, 9 Parts; 60 min
A Documentary Video by Sapril Akhmady
Local dialects with English subtitles & narration

The story begins at a time when the Ammatoa people are feeling deeply disturbed about ongoing changes in their community. They feel as if they are facing currents of transformation that will fundamentally affect their culture and their traditional way of life. The system of agriculture has been changed, machines for activities like paddy pounding have been introduced, modern roads have been built around villages, and customary land has been taken away. Underlying all these changes is the fact that traditional knowledge has been lost and that the younger generation is less concerned about retaining this knowledge. Indeed, what concerns the Ammatoa most is this changing mind set, changes in ways of thinking, and changes even in religious values. Their ancestors inherited a prominent element known as Pasang (messages from ancestors). For generations the Pasang have been the fundamental basis of Ammatoa religious life. They are increasingly aware, however, that the influence of schooling and formal education among the present generation ha brought new values and new materialistic perceptions. Many Ammatoa fear that these alterations are leading their community far away from their traditional unpretentious life style, where they are taught to live in a spiritually simple manner.

The history of the Ammatoa people shows clearly that they are able to deal with change. They have their own strategies that have enabled them to survive and which have made them known as a specific cultural community, a community that still maintains teh cultural heritage of its ancestors. Through culturally complex adaptation, they really have proven that they can survive even when influences from outside have been extremely destructive. Legends and mythology recount Ammatoa history from pre-colonial times during the Gowa kingdom, through the colonial era to the post-colonial “orde baru” (New Order).

These stories are not just accounts of communal successes, for they tell of the loss of customary land, and teh cultural domination of outsiders. On the other hand, firm belief in the truth of the Pasang among the Ammatoa represents a cultural triumph, and helps explain their ability to survive in the Tana Toa villiage, even though their numbers are small.

The most pressing question is wether the Ammatoa will be able to survive into the next phase, when we think about all the changes among the people themselves, and the very different conditions now when compared with the past. The Ammatoa have many perceptions about their society, but they firmly believe that “if custom is lost, if the sacred forest is destroyed, that finally will be the end of human beings.” It remains to be seen whether the Ammatoa can continue to maintain a culture based on the close relationship between spiritual life and the environment when some of the most far-reaching changes are coming from within their own community. In the end this will depend on the Ammatoa people themselves.

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